How COVID-19 Transformed Sales and B2B Content Marketing—and Five Ways to Adapt
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic shift in how B2B businesses operate.
Employees across job functions are working remotely, at least for the near future, and every new purchase is met with scrutiny—and, often, a large purchasing committee.
The pandemic has also significantly changed the way B2B buyers and sellers do business. In-person meetings and events—once hallmarks of B2B sales—are now things of the past.
At the same time, marketers are under pressure to break through the digital overload to reach the right audiences with the right messages in the right places.
Whereas some of those challenges are temporary, others will be last longer.
In fact, some things—including remote work and digital selling—may never go back to "business as usual." Mary Shea of Forrester forecasts that in the future, 80% or more of the sales cycle will happen in digital or remote settings.
It's true that sellers and marketers must overcome challenges they've never faced before, but it's still possible to effectively engage with B2B buyers. However, doing so requires sellers and marketers to think differently and to adopt strategies that enable them to deliver the seamless experiences B2B buyers have come to expect.
Five of those strategies are outlined in this article.
1. Deliver relevant content personalized to the modern buyer
Content marketing plays an essential role in the path to purchase for B2B buyers. That's nothing new. But today's remote buyers are bombarded with content everywhere they look; and because B2B buyers continue to behave more like consumers, both the content that sellers share and the way it's delivered need to keep pace.
All too often, buyers are faced with content that is generic and irrelevant. That's bad news, because the top reason B2B buyers disengage from brands is irrelevant content, according to a report from CMO council.
Today's marketers must always be ready to deliver content that's personalized and perfectly mapped to a prospect's specific pain points.
That doesn't mean sellers should be creating materials from scratch for every deal. That can be disastrous. Instead, it's important to ensure that sellers can access and personalize all approved, branded content from a centralized location.
Some B2B companies are also using artificial intelligence (AI) tools that suggest sales and marketing content proven to be effective in selling scenarios like the one the company is facing.
The adage that the medium is as important as the message also applies here: Just as your content must be relevant, the way you deliver it and the way buyers experience it must be engaging.
2. Use video and interactivity to engage B2B buyers
Video is a great way for sellers to deliver great experiences when they're not in the same room as their prospects. In fact, video can be an effective sales tool for various parts of the buying journey.
For starters, sellers can use videoconferencing software when in-person meetings aren't possible. Video calls can be more engaging for buyers than traditional conference calls. Plus, video calls allow sellers to access verbal and nonverbal cues (think facial expressions and tone), which can help inform next steps.
Most people (90%) say watching product videos helps them make purchase decisions, according to an infographic from Vidyard. In addition, more than half (59%) of company decision-makers say video is their preferred way to learn.
At the same time, it's important to acknowledge that Zoom fatigue is real. To drive meaningful interactions and capture important information from prospects, explore more ways you can create B2B content marking experiences that are interactive and engaging.
3. Digitally track buyer interest
When a seller is in the same room as a buyer, it's easier to gauge reactions to the information and content being shared. That's not possible when the selling experience is remote. Sometimes, it can seem sellers are throwing content and information into a black hole, hoping something sticks.
Today, successful businesses use analytics tools that allow sellers to understand which content resonates (and which doesn't) with buyers. Those tools get granular: They can track things such as email opens, page-by-page content views, downloads, and shares.
Such powerful insights allow sellers to personalize their follow-up efforts and keep deals moving forward.
4. Consider virtual events
Pre-COVID, in-person events were one of the biggest line items for B2B marketing teams. On average, 12% of B2B marketing teams' budget was allocated to events, according to a survey from Forrester.
And it seems that was money well spent: The same research also tells us that nearly half (45%) of B2B buyers indicated that event materials (presentations, keynotes, booth materials, etc.) were the second most important source of content.
Since then, marketers have scrambled to reimagine their events digitally. Although that seemed like an inconvenience at first, marketers have quickly discovered that digital-only events—when well executed and engaging—can be even more valuable than in-person ones.
Virtual events allow marketers to reach a wider audience. Unlike in-person events, virtual events aren't limited to those who have the time and budget to travel to a live event location.
What's more, B2B marketers can more easily track the engagement of participants at virtual events, which can help them understand which types of events are driving sales. For example, they can see that a prospect attended a specific livestreamed keynote and then eventually went on to make a purchase; and if they notice trends, they can draw conclusions accordingly.
5. Engage in social-selling
Social media—especially LinkedIn—is a great tool for networking and sharing the occasional industry think piece.
LinkedIn can also be a great tool for initiating, nurturing, and even closing sales, especially now that in-person meetings are not feasible. After all, a whopping 40 million B2B decision-makers use the platform.
That doesn't mean you should send random connection requests with the intent of diving right into your sales pitch. Instead, focus on building a network, posting relevant content, and engaging with other users' content.
You might also consider using some of LinkedIn's paid services, such as Sponsored Content, InMail, or paid ads.
When you're authentic and useful to your LinkedIn audience right from the start, they'll be a lot more receptive to your sales messages down the road.
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The pandemic has changed the face of B2B business—perhaps forever. The most successful sellers and marketers will be those who adapt quickly and adopt new strategies to effectively reach buyers regardless of physical location or stage of the buyer journey.
Marketing Profs feature - Marissa Aydlett, chief growth officer at Showpad